Identification and interpretive rights in the rhetoric of violent spectacle

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2014-05

Authors

Eatman, Megan Elizabeth

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Abstract

"Identification and Interpretive Rights in the Rhetoric of Violent Spectacle" approaches lynching, the death penalty, and stealth torture as multimodal public discourse, comprised of violent events, their representations, and their surrounding debate. While the forms of violence I discuss all have avowed communicative purposes, I argue that the rhetorical emphasis on these messages often masks more important claims about group identity and the nature of punishment. Through examination of the physical and discursive constructions of these violent events, I argue that these spectacles serve as centers of identification through which rhetors reinforce divisions between groups and standards of violent and non-violent argument. Chapter One builds on the common claim that lynching was a performance that affirmed a version of white Southern identity by examining how pro-lynching rhetoric performed lynching's implicit refusal to deliberate. Chapter Two addresses the contemporary death penalty's shift away from live spectacle and examines how pro-death penalty rhetoric constructs the audience/execution relationship when visual access is not an option. Chapter Three discusses how rhetors circumscribe "the right to look" at illicit images of Saddam Hussein's execution and the torture at Abu Ghraib, illustrating how the "right" reaction to a violent image can be a marker of group membership. The Conclusion begins to expand the dissertation's argument by raising questions about understandings of justice, legal codifications of pain, and multimodal representations of violent events.

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